Social media – a potential mine field. Employer proof it!

Social media – a potential mine field. Employer proof it!

I lose count of the number of MPs who have stood down because of a comment made on social media in the past – sometimes the distant past and sometimes before they even were a MP. Francesca O’Brien, a candidate in west Wales, posted on Facebook in 2014 that “these people need putting down”, commenting on participants in the TV show Benefits Street. She has apologised and as far as I know has not actually stood down. That said, if elected, that comment will haunt her for the rest of her parliamentary career.

The problem is that many people are prolific on social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and, younger generations, TikTok, to name but a few! – and it is so easy to lose track of what you posted, was it a joke, was it meant, was this on a private account, was it public, did other people comment and did the conversation go viral?

It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. After a particularly eventful night out with your friends, where your behaviour was less than ideal, a photo emerges on Monday morning on social media that you’d never hope to see there (and might not even remember). Social media damage control is in order.

Employers can, and often will, scour social media pages of prospective employees to find out a bit more about the person they may want to hire. Similarly, employers will keep tabs on their employees through social media – because they can. And unfortunately, social media tells a story about you that will either impress or dismay future and current employers.

So here are some suggestions how to ensure that your social media profile portrays yourself exactly as you would like your employer to see it.

First of all, keep personal and professional very, very separate. Obvious I know, so why do so many people fall at that first hurdle?

Ensure that you operate your personal profiles and professional profiles separately, and that never the two shall meet. Consider making your private accounts just that, private – so that they’re not publicly accessible.

  • That said, when your boss requests to follow you, it may be rude not to accept. So, it’s key to ensure that both your professional and personal pages portray you in a positive light. A profile photo of you with your puppy or doing something wholesome in the great outdoors? Perfect. Does it show an old photo straight from first year at university? Time to update it, fast.
  • When posting, adopt a personal filter to anything which is based on, “would my mum be embarrassed by this”? If she would, then don’t go there.
  • Revisit your privacy settings to ensure unwanted information is locked way, way out of sight or deleted completely. Adjust if needed, and then do a “view only” or similar check of your page. Still unsure? Just ask someone who is not friends with you on that page to check what they can see.
  • Monitor all your social media pages regularly. If a friend tags you in a well-meaning but mildly offensive meme on a professional page that could make an employer think twice about you, then you need to know it’s there and remove it ASAP.

Clean up your history

Even once you have established a professional online presence, don’t lose sight of the past. Every photo or comment you’ve posted on social media is still hiding somewhere, and could be found by a current or prospective employer with a simple Google search. So how do you find those unwanted images and comments from the past and get rid of them?

  • There are programmes available to run an online scan to identify potentially problematic photos of you. Or at the very least simply type in your name and see what appears.
  • Take time to scroll through your pages and hide or preferably delete any photos and comments you don’t want seen, and sift through your updates and statuses to remove the ones that said things like “threw a sickie today”.

So what should I post?

Having safely locked your personal online profiles away so you and your friends can continue to share memes and photos from fun nights out, it’s time to consider what you CAN post on your professional pages.

  • Anything work-related that reflects your motivation, willingness to work or professional development, such as attending events or courses is great.
  • Share an interesting discussion, news or development in your industry and respond to comments on this.
  • Consider material that will show a bit of your personality, in a positive way. Are you volunteering somewhere on your days off? Share a photo. Did you just walk up a significant mountain, win a race, become a parent? Post a snapshot or two of that.
  • Comment on others in your industry by posting a message of congratulations on a promotion, award or otherwise.
  • Humble posts of you winning an award are good too. Make sure to thank your team or those giving the award…

And please, never ever post anywhere about something fun you’re doing on a ‘sick’ day – career suicide!

Treat your social media as your CV

Follow the same rules as when writing your CV. What does that mean?

  • Check spelling and grammar. A long, rambling post without commas or other punctuation won’t impress anyone, let alone your boss.
  • Filter your material. Are you posting a lot about contentious issues, such as politics that could adversely reflect on you in the workplace? By all means have an opinion, but keep it to your personal pages.
  • Just like a CV, lying never pays. When listing your employment history on LinkedIn, stick to the truth, and if the list is long, stick to what is relevant.

If in doubt of how to delete or hide anything negative, then it may well be worth seeking some advice and help from an IT expert. In some cases, money well spent! I’m sure Francesca O’Brien agrees….

“Tell me of a time you’ve failed” … What? No!

I think it was Henry Ford who said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” However, no-one likes failure, and for most it’s a word that can raise your anxiety level, particularly when asked about it in an interview. Do we really want to think about and address failure in the interview room? Surely interviews are the place to be positive and talk about everything that you’ve achieved?

This may well be true, however failure is an inevitable part of working life, and your interviewer knows that. Of course they will want to know about your successes and achievements, and how you did it. That said the interviewer will also want to know about your approach to failure and how you deal with it; can you take a step back and see where you went wrong, or do you sweep it under the carpet and act like it never happened?

Failures are forgivable, inevitable in fact, for if you have never made a mistake, you have probably never made a decision. Businesses will look for individuals who can reflect and learn. But if you cannot identify how and where you went wrong and learn for next time, then that will put you on the back foot. Therefore, whilst you certainly won’t be the one to bring it up, you will need to be prepared to answer that dreaded interview question, “Tell me about a time you failed” in a positive and convincing way.

Think ahead and know what example you’ll talk about

This is a little bit of a balancing act. You don’t want to pick a thinly veiled success story that isn’t really a failure at all, such as “I exceeded my monthly sales target by 120 per cent, but I really wanted it to be by 130 per cent, so I was disappointed.” Believe me, the interviewer will see straight through that. Equally, avoid talking about a huge mistake which cost a huge amount of time, money or even jobs.

So think of a real example of where you made a genuine oversight or error of judgement that caused a ripple in the ocean, rather than a tsunami. Maybe missing a deadline, failing to close a deal or not hitting a KPI one month – just make sure that the example you select is not one of the key requirements of the job you’re interviewing for. Once you have in mind what example to use, practice telling your story (well ahead of the interview) and do remember these points:

Explain how it happened

Make sure you clearly indicate that you know exactly where you went wrong. Recall the situation as it happened and pinpoint the obstacles which prevented you from achieving the desired outcome. This will demonstrate that you know the root cause of the problem, and can prevent it from happening again. That said, don’t let your reasons sound like excuses or you blaming someone else, which nicely brings us to the next two points.

Don’t hide behind excuses

Please do not attribute your mistake to things beyond your control – the weather, a shortage of staff or a flat tyre. We all know that in business, there will be uncontrollable elements that can hinder your goals. However, what is important is how you identify what is in your immediate control, and how you take ownership and responsibility for the times that you fail to take that control. If you do anything else, you can come across as defensive and unaccountable during the interview.

Don’t shift the blame to others

Similarly, don’t blame other people as you talk about the situation. This is probably one of the worst things you could do. Someone who looks for the nearest person to blame, rather than reflecting on how they are personally responsible, will without fail be a threat to the team dynamic, morale and productivity. Talk about what you could have done to prevent the failure from happening, and show the humble self-awareness that all managers respect.

Be careful not to be too hard on yourself

You can be humble and self-aware, but you can’t go completely overboard and being self-deprecating. As you tell the story, don’t insult yourself or make any sweeping generalisations about who you are as an employee. Rather, stick to the facts and tell the story objectively. This will show that you can take these situations on the chin, rather than choosing to dwell on them for ages.

Show that you have learned from the situation

Don’t come out with the cliché “I’ve learnt more from my failures than I have from my successes”. But of course make sure to outline which lessons you have taken from your story, and demonstrate how you have since applied them to similar situations to achieve a more positive outcome.

As stated earlier, mistakes and disappointments are inevitable in your career, so there’s no need to avoid talking about them during an interview when prompted. Just make sure you choose your story wisely, and prepare to tell it in a way that portrays you as an accountable, self-aware candidate who will strive to learn from your mistakes in order to improve future performance.

Good luck!

What should your CV look like?

It is fair to say that I see and read more CVs than any of our client companies – that’s obvious as it is part of the job. I thought I would just mention this, as I have a fairly controversial opinion/theory: Continue reading “What should your CV look like?”

You did not get the job

So after two or so conversations and an interview with the headhunter, two face to face meetings with their client and an online psychometric test (which you think you absolutely nailed), you receive the call to say that you did not get the job. That hurt. Rejection is not something anyone enjoys, so maybe just stay in your current job, tear up your CV and consider yourself done until retirement.

No, no, wait! This is one of those scenarios where persistence pays off. Take a breather, walk around the block a few times and let that rejection wash off you, and start again.

This job clearly wasn’t for you, so how can we turn this negative into a positive?

Did I say something wrong?

Unfortunately, you don’t often see companies or hiring authorities write a nice email to let you down gently. More often you find there is a wall of silence, never to be heard from again.

However, as you have met with the company at least once or twice, you should consider phoning or emailing the interviewer. You can thank them for the opportunity and, as part of your learning experience, ask them politely why you weren’t chosen.

If they are prepared to impart this information and you are prepared to listen for a few minutes and ask some pertinent questions, then you could receive some real gems in constructive criticism, well beyond ‘just not being a suitable candidate’.

Ideally you’ll learn about how you did, including whether you were lacking certain experience or needed a particular qualification (in which case the headhunter should have checked whether this was a deal breaker before putting you forward). Had you not done enough home work in preparation? Did you not ask the right questions? Or did they decide to promote internally or hire someone with 10 years more experience than you?

Which part of your performance can you improve?

If nothing else, consider your time meeting and interviewing with the headhunter and their client as a learning experience and, hopefully, as an opportunity to expand your network. However, what can you do to prepare better next time? Find out:

  • Were there any sticking points? How can they be avoided or how would you prepare differently for them?
  • If you were missing qualifications, evaluate whether it is worth gaining these.
  • Was the client expecting you to have skills or experience that you couldn’t claim you had?

Upskill for the next round

If some gaps have emerged in your skill set, experience or in how you answer certain interview questions, then now is the time to find a way to overcome these next time. Can you:

  • Do a course?
  • Volunteer for extra responsibilities or project work that will help you in your development?
  • Get a mentor in your current business?

Keep that door open!

So you did not get the job this time … however the company may well get other vacancies you qualify for in the future. Therefore, if you have been turned down, stay polite and friendly and see it as an opportunity to widen your network. What reasons can you find to stay in touch with the decision maker? Make sure they know you are interested in other vacancies as they materialise, send them an email thanking them for the opportunity and stay connected!


With the emergence of the digital world, it is easier now more than ever before to stay in touch with your network by creating a digital presence and personal brand. Contribute, publish articles and comment. Make sure you are there to get noticed.

Good luck!


Get yourself the right salary

A good headhunter will have done their research and will usually get you a realistic remuneration package. But if you’re not working with a headhunter, you will need to negotiate for yourself.

So how do you negotiate the right deal for you?

Work satisfaction will hopefully come from doing a job you enjoy, but being paid what you’re worth is crucial to feeling valued and having a sense of satisfaction at the end of a long week.

It can be awkward to bring up the subject of money, but it’s essential to get this right from the off. Once you’re in the role, it’s too late to negotiate.

So how do you ensure you really are getting what you deserve?

  • Be prepared to explain your reasoning with evidence-based research.
  • Are you upscaling your role, or is it on a similar level? Compare your expected salary, bonuses and benefits to the position you’re aiming for.
  • Ask some carefully chosen contacts in your industry what they would expect to get, in both terms of salary and other benefits.
  • Find out industry trends including salaries of similar positions and experience levels – a quick look on job boards or LinkedIn will provide some guidance.
  • If you’re moving to a different area, the pay package could vary depending on location.

Allow for flexibility

If you are asked to state what you’re looking for, give a ‘between x and y’ number so that you can negotiate. You can explain that this is the range you have come across for similar roles whilst doing your research.

Pitch it right

Don’t scupper your chances by asking for an unrealistically high salary unless you are prepared to take a risk that you may put yourself out of range.

Conversely, if you ask for too little, you could be underselling yourself and may never recover from that, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction. Even if it’s your dream job, think beyond the initial excitement and imagine how you’ll feel on that salary in a year or two’s time.

Your previous research will indicate what a reasonable amount for the position and your experience could be.

Exceptions to the rule

If you’re moving from a city location with high expenses to a rural area with an easy commute (or flexibility to work from home) accepting less money could be an option. Or perhaps you’re changing industries and lack experience. Be clear about the reasons before you decide.

Don’t jump in too soon

Wait until you have a formal job offer before you start negotiating – you’re in a much stronger position when you know they want you, and you don’t need to start haggling in the early stages. It could even be off-putting to some.

Any other benefits?

Salary packages could include much more than just a monthly pay packet. Remember to factor in other benefits:

Gym membership, private health insurance, company car, car parking, travel benefits, annual bonus, extra holiday days, fewer travelling expenses. Add up all these extra costs that you may not need to pay out of your own pocket in the future.

Will you get better progression and promotion prospects with this new role? The opportunities presented to you to progress could have value.

Be confident

Be confident and maintain eye contact if you’re asked to state an expected salary. There will be time for negotiation if and when you are offered the role, so simply state your expectations and wait it out. If you’ve done your research, you should be able to do this with a degree of certainty.

Second interview – will you prepare a presentation?

There you are, just heard that you have made the cut and you’re through to the 2nd interview stage! Hopefully you have asked how many candidates have progressed to that stage, so that you have a sense of the amount of competition you have. Continue reading “Second interview – will you prepare a presentation?”

How to prepare for a video interview

Video interviews are becoming common practice, as more and more employers (but also recruitment firms) cut travel costs and are looking for more efficient ways to manage their time. However, in my experience, few individuals are well versed in making a good impression by video link and as this is often the final filter to decide whether you are invited for an in-person meeting, it is important to prepare well. Continue reading “How to prepare for a video interview”

CV writing. Or filming ..?

You’re looking to change jobs or you’re just looking for a job, you may have sent your CV off a few (dozen) times and have had no real result or joy.

Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes, it’s difficult to get a feel for someone’s personality and creativity from a CV and cover letter.

And from your point of view, it is difficult to stand out from the crowd. So the choice is either get really creative with your CV, or think of an alternative way of representing yourself. Unless you’re applying for a graphic design job, there are limits to what you should do with your CV, as its ‘personality’ must be in keeping with the type of position you’re interested in or qualified for.

So what’s the alternative?

We already see that the making of a video clip is part of many entry level position selection processes. These positions see a high volume of applications and it is much quicker to judge candidates visually than from their CV. Of course, in a sense it is also self-selecting, as some people are not prepared to go to the trouble of filming themselves, whereas they may have been tempted to just fire off a CV.

Unilever says that since it has started to use video as part of the job application process, it is getting a higher rate of acceptances on job offers and it has improved its diversity.

So how is this relevant to executive roles and positions?

Well, it isn’t. Not yet anyway.

And here is my point. In my opinion in a world where the number of searches on YouTube are similar to the number of Google searches, video / visual representation is becoming increasingly important. Just look at how many video posts there are on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

So, it will only be a matter of time before we will be presenting ourselves by an introductory email and a link to a video clip … and perhaps a CV attachment as well.  For any position, from shop assistant to CEO.

As that time has not yet come, what an opportunity to stand out from the crowd right now!

So how do you go about it? Here are a few steps to consider.

  1. Plan before you start writing your script.

It is important to make an impression as quickly as possible, so introduce yourself and sum up in a sentence or two why you’re the best person for the job. Follow this with quantifiable achievements, plus comments or examples about your leadership style and your experience to date. Don’t be a clown, however if you can inject a bit of humour then that will make you sound more confident and will give the recipient an idea of your personality.

  1. Rehearse

Know what you are going to say, in what order and what words you will use. Make sure you do not come across as a newsreader. You could put post-it notes with bullet points around the camera if you need an aid. Think about your posture, body language and facial expressions – all this, whilst making sure that this is you and not some act that you cannot live up to in the long run!

  1. Shoot

Do a few test runs to make sure the lighting is right, you have paid attention to the background and that you are happy with the distance of the camera. Just filming your face as a close up would be weird. However it is your choice whether you want to sit, stand, just film your upper torso behind a desk or anything else. Find some examples on YouTube and see what you like and what works for you. Shoot several takes until you are happy with the end result.

  1. Edit

If you’re not a confident editor, avoid using too many graphics or animations – although a title with your name and contact details is a good idea. If you want to splash the cash, then find a professional editor (probably a 19 year old with a penchant for online gaming). The aim should be to create a coherent video without detracting from your message. Remember, you’re being judged on your skills, personality and presentation, not your video editing skills.

Finally, seek out honest feedback from a trusted friend or mentor.

  1. Submit

It is probably easiest to upload it to YouTube or Vimeo in order to share it with any recipient. I’d recommend that you keep your video private, so that only people with the link can see it.

Then create a well-worded email and Bob’s your uncle.

Will this get you the job? No. Will it make you stand out and be more likely to be picked out for an interview? Most likely.


Good luck and let me know if you need any help.

Maarten Jonckers

First interview – how to prepare

Exciting times, you have been invited to meet a potential new employer for what sounds like a great opportunity for furthering your career.

Problem is, you probably are not the only person they will be meeting. Assuming a shortlist of three candidates (and at least one internal candidate), it seems that your chance of success is 1:4.

So how can you swing the odds in your favour?

There are plenty of online articles and books about clever ways to answer interview questions, how to walk, talk and shake hands with your potential new employer and there are plenty of Do’s and Don’t’s regarding your conduct in the meeting and of course the dreaded dress code.
After interviewing potential short list candidates on behalf of my clients for more than 20 years, I have come to the conclusion that if you prepare well for the interview and stick to your plan then you have nothing to fear about.

Whether you have attended scores of interviews, whether you are naturally a confident person or whether you believe the interviewer will not be as senior as you are, if you do not prepare, the likelihood is that you will fail.

So what to do? Well you can’t go far wrong by following these tips:

1. Prepare a 10 minute mini commercial about yourself:
a. Expect the interviewer to have read your CV, so start off by giving only a brief overview of the companies and positions you have held (in no more than 2-3 sentences).
b. Then highlight the experience you have gained that is relevant to the job you are interviewing for, ie ‘the biggest team I have managed was at XYZ, where we achieved the following’, or ‘whilst at XYZ I lead the transformation project that lead to a 180 degree change in company culture’.
c. Highlight 2-3 specific achievements that are relevant to the job you are interviewing for. You really want to talk in quite some detail about what the situation was, what plan you / your team came up with, how you implemented it and what the final result was. Note: the more specific you can be in terms of % or £, the more memorable it will be for the interviewer. Achievements ought to be time based, specific and bench marked, it is the difference between saying ‘whilst at XYZ I significantly improved sales’ and saying ‘in 2013 I increased sales by 15% or £1.5m on a like-for-like basis against a market increase of only 2%’.

Btw you prepare this 10 minute mini commercial so that you can answer the ‘so tell me a bit about yourself’ question. You need to practise it, so that you know what you’re going to say and in what order. Don’t be word perfect, because you might come across as a news reader. Make sure to stick to 10mins – shorter will make you wishy washy, longer may make you verbose (please note that most interviewers will start to switch off after 10mins), however with 10 mins you’ll come across as succinct, to the point and (hopefully) with great clarity.
2. Research the company:
a. Read their website enough times for you to be able to speak knowledgeable about the business.
b. Search the internet for recent news articles on the company.
c. Visit the company’s stores, talk to the store staff, observe what works well and make a list of the things you think do not work well / want to ask questions about. Make a purchase, use their product and have an opinion about the experience and the product.
d. Check the online user experience, compare the digital customer experience to the one you had in store. How did the check out procedure work, was the order delivered on time. What did the packaging look like?

3. Research the competition:
a. How do they compare in service, price points, quality, availability, customer journey on and off line?
b. Speak to customers, why do they shop there? Do they also shop at the business you’re interviewing with? Why, or why not?

4. Research the interviewer(s):
a. LinkedIn is of course a great source for this, however are there also any articles published by or about your interviewer? Check!
b. Is there anyone in the interviewer’s background, who you know? Can you find out some background information on the interviewer? Even to know where they have last holidayed or what sports team they support can help you find common ground, which is so important in establishing rapport.

5. Prepare a SWOT analysis or a brief presentation based on your findings on the business. Preface it with ‘without any concrete information, but more as an outsider looking in, I believe that…’. You need to let the interviewer know in a subtle way, that you have done your home work. And you have done it thoroughly.
Btw if you (and I suggest that you do) leave a few slides / printed pages behind, then make sure they are printed on good quality paper, make sure that your name is printed on each page and depending on how many pages you leave behind, either put them in a nice folder or have them bound professionally. It is amazing how a few quid spent on a simple hand out can make a massive difference.

6. Find out what the company’s dress code is (even better, find out what the interviewer’s dress code is) and either match it or slightly better it. It’s better to be a bit neater than a bit more casual than expected…

7. Make a list of topics you want to talk about / questions you want to ask. The first question after your 10mins mini commercial ought to be ‘although I have done a lot of research, I wouldn’t mind hearing from you what the company has been through in the last 3 years, where it is today and where it aims to be in 3 years time’. Followed by ‘what has prompted the business to want to recruit a new xyz and what would this person need to achieve in their first 6 months in order to be deemed successful’.
Btw, the more you can find out about the interviewer’s or the company’s expectations for this role before you have to start answering their questions the better it is, because it will give you a good idea of what to highlight in your background later on to pique their interest.

8. Prepare yourself for the difficult questions – ‘what are your salary expectations’ (never give them a number, because you will be committed to it), ‘what are your weaknesses’ (give them a past development need that you have now overcome or a development need that has nothing to do with the job you are doing or the job that you are interviewing for).

9. Before you go to the interview think about how you can give some anecdotal evidence of your achievements. Just quoting facts and figures will ensure that the interviewer will forget your achievements, whilst if you wrap them up in an anecdote and tell them a ‘memorable story’ then that is far more likely to stick. Even better if it is a funny story, if you can make the interviewer smile then you are definitely building rapport.
Btw, don’t tell jokes, stick to the truth, don’t set out to be the funny guy. However, we all have experiences that we can smile about – share them!

10. Prepare a few ‘closes’ to the meeting, so that you can chose which one to use depending on the level of rapport you have built. A pushy, in your face close would be: ‘do you at this stage have any reservations regarding my ability to do the job or my ability to fit in from a cultural or personality perspective’. Less direct would be ‘I enjoyed the meeting, what are the next steps please’. Note: you will learn more from the first one, but it might not always be appropriate to use it.

Good luck and make sure to enjoy the experience, because you will come across as more confident if you set out to enjoy it. If you have any questions or need more advice, feel free to contact me.

Had a job offer … but don’t want to accept?

So you have been through a few rounds of interviews, you feel flattered by the attention and (possibly sooner than expected) you have been offered the job.

Great! But wait …. you’re not sure this is the dream job for you. What next?

There could be a whole host of reasons that you have come this far, but do not want to proceed:

  • Maybe the interview process has been haphazard – perhaps long gaps in between interviews (how urgent is this?), no feedback from meetings (do they value their staff?), seemingly round after round of interviews, tests and meetings (do they know what they want or are they indecisive?)
  • Maybe during the interview process the company has had negative press – could be anything from an industrial tribunal to poor results reported – or the position’s circumstances have changed. Perhaps your future line manager has left the business or the company is going through a restructure.
  • Maybe you have not been entirely honest with yourself and the business. Perhaps you have no intention of leaving your current business and you were just ‘kicking tyres’.
  • Maybe the offer is so under par, that there is no point in negotiating, because you feel that this is an indication of how they value the position.

Whatever it might be, you need to extract yourself gracefully (ideally without burning any bridges because you do not know when you might come across the decision makers again – retail is a small world), whilst also staying true to yourself. In other words give them the real reason, rather than a feeble excuse.

Expect them to try and persuade you to change your mind, after all they have made a significant investment in time to arrive at this point, so make certain when you decline an offer you give them a precise and concise reason, from which you cannot and will not be swayed. And apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Some are easy, for example: “the company’s recent annual results are a real surprise to me and I feel that I have been misled or have misunderstood the business’ current trading performance. I have set myself the target to join a growing business, rather than a turnaround”.

Others are more difficult: “I feel that the position is not significantly different from the one I have currently and know that my prospects for promotion are greater where I am”.

Or: “On reflection, I have misgivings about the fact that the company culture is so different than I am used to, and I’m concerned that this appointment will not work out for either you or me”.

My advice is to make sure that the reason for turning the offer down, cannot be (easily) rectified. If it is about money, they may offer you more. If it is about not being able to work from home, they may offer you that concession.

The financial state of their business or current performance, the company culture or the lack of available progression are not easily fixed…

Need help? Call me!